Eva took a moment to relax. On Ylva’s throne. It wasn’t easy.
The throne was carved out of the same black marble the rest of the throne platform was made from. It had no cushions, no curvature, and it was far too large. Eva couldn’t sit with her back against the throne’s back without her calves hitting the relatively sharp edge of the seat.
The hel was a skeleton while sitting on the throne. Maybe her nerves didn’t function in that form. Maybe they didn’t function anyway; she was barely better than a corpse while she had skin on.
All in all, it wasn’t relaxing at all. How Ylva managed was beyond her.
A whimper at her side had Eva rubbing her temples once again.
Nel’s self-loathing didn’t help Eva’s relaxation. Not in the slightest.
“I don’t know why you’re worried,” Eva said with a sigh. “Even if they tear down my blood wards and trash the prison, it isn’t like they can get in here. Devon just walks into the real cell house when he tries to open the door. I can’t imagine the nuns will be able to enter.”
“It’s not that–though I wouldn’t put it past them to find a way in; our magic can do fairly strange things under the right circumstances–it’s that they noticed me in the first place. I’m a rogue augur. They aren’t going to let me go.”
“And you’re sure they noticed?”
“I used my own blood to seek out the vial set away in the vaults. Another augur was doing the reverse. With a priest and two prioresses hovering over her shoulder. I could tell they lost track of me, but,” Nel slumped in on herself, burying her head in her hands, “there’s no doubt they saw me.”
Eva nodded. She jumped to her feet. Her blood-covered bloodstone lazily orbited her as she paced. Getting comfortable on the throne was simply impossible.
“How soon could they mobilize against you?”
“Depends. If they send an inquisitorial chapter after me, it could be within the hour. All of them are capable of long-range teleportation. They might decide on a chapter of nuns which would take significantly longer. Maybe even pull Charon Chapter for the job.”
Eva froze. “They could be here in minutes and you’re not watching them?”
“They’ve gone dark! They’re not going to be drawing up battle plans with me hovering over their shoulders.”
“And Sister Cross?”
“Also missing. She did that from time to time, so it might not be related.”
Eva scoffed. “Fat chance of that. They probably pulled her in to find out everything she knew.”
Which included Arachne and herself. Eva pinched the bridge of her nose hard enough to draw blood from her claws. She healed it with a stray thought. Hopefully Zagan would act as an adequate deterrent until the mess at Brakket gets cleaned up.
Nel gave a terse nod, but didn’t comment.
“Keep an eye on the prison’s perimeter. I need to speak with Devon. If anything comes within ten miles of this place, I want to know about it immediately.”
“You want me to leave if they show up?” Nel’s eyes went wide as her head twisted to make eye contact with Eva. She flinched away almost immediately.
Eva neither smiled nor laughed at her discomfort. She kept her voice as deadly serious as her fourteen-year-old self could. “Immediately.”
“If I get hit by a lightning bolt from a teleporting nun that is after you, and you fail to warn me, I swear I will personally tear out your spine. Understand?”
Nel nodded. A shallow, pitiful nod, but a nod nonetheless.
“Good.” Eva smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m sure everything will be fine.”
“Get to watching. I’ll be back shortly.” Eva turned and left Nel behind without another word.
She walked straight across the pit without even a glance down the vast chasm.
Outside Ylva’s domain was… normal. The sun was out, though not incredibly bright. Cold wind tossed Eva’s long hair up and around her. Clouds hung over the land in the direction of Brakket. Ylva’s doing no doubt.
Although there were pockmarks everywhere from whatever battle Arachne and Genoa had had, nothing in her prison was on fire. Yet.
That was always a positive.
Eva stepped. While it had yet to snow, the late November air was not the warmest thing Eva had felt and she did not want to spend longer than necessary outside. There was a wind that constantly blew through some of the buildings around her prison.
She still hadn’t gotten around to heating the entire prison with a rune system. So much to do, so many distractions.
It took four short steps to reach the front of Devon’s cell house.
A few more steps had her at the top of the stairs, right in front of Devon’s revamped penthouse. She opened the door and walked right in.
Devon was leaning back on the hind legs of his chair with a notebook and pen in his hands. His feet were resting atop a desk he had procured for himself.
The moment Eva opened the door, he started to tip backwards. Eva grinned in anticipation of the crash.
An empty chair clattered to the floor.
A cold blade pressed itself against her throat.
“I might actually have to start knocking,” Eva said. She closed her chitinous fingers around the blade and gently pushed it away.
“As if,” Devon said with a scoff. “Shouldn’t you be in school.”
“Something came…” Eva trailed off as she noticed what was holding Devon’s knife. It curled around the handle three times, denting the handle at one part. “Is that–”
“One of the carnivean’s tentacles. One of the larger, more powerful ones. Yes.”
“You replaced your arm with a tentacle?”
Devon raised an eyebrow. “You replaced both hands and both legs with Arachne’s crap and you took the carnivean’s eyes. I don’t want to hear any judgment from you.”
“Yeah, but you’re kind of weird about the whole demon thing. I expected you to find the most human-like arm possible.”
“Too expensive. Not prices I’m willing to pay.” He gave a small shrug. “Besides, I can always chop it off if something better comes along.”
As Devon tried to sheathe the knife, it slipped from his tentacle and clattered to the floor. “Still adapting to it,” he mumbled as he bent to pick it up with his other hand.
“Takes a while, doesn’t it?”
“Arachne’s limbs are analogous to human hands. This is completely different. I can’t even describe what goes through my mind when I try to use it.” He idly scratched at his goatee with his tentacle. “And trust me, I’ve tried.”
Eva glanced down and flexed her own hand. She couldn’t say that she ever thought much about it. There were extra joints, but none of it felt foreign. Then again, it had been a whole year. She had ample opportunity to get used to it.
“So? What are you ditching school for?”
Before Eva could get a word in, Devon held up his hand. With a frown on his face, he said, “wait. Wrong question. What did you screw up this time?”
“Nothing!” Eva mirrored his frown and crossed her arms. “Why would you even think such a thing? I haven’t screwed anything up.”
Devon gave her a cold-eyed glare.
“I’m pretty sure, anyway. I was skipping class, but that’s not a good reason for an army of demon-golems to attack me.”
Eva leaned up against her master’s desk as she told an increasingly agitated Devon the events of the past hour.
“And you just gave this Irene girl to a demon?”
“I didn’t give anything. I ordered Lucy to take her to a nurse. Carefully. No contracts, no barters.”
“That’s not a whole lot better.”
“Well I wasn’t in much of a position to do it. I came here for reinforcements only to find the reinforcements had already been sent.”
“And now we’re defenseless against this nun strike force,” he mumbled to himself. “Alright. We’re leaving.”
“What? We can’t leave. All my books and supplies are here. Nel too, I guess. Surely you don’t want to leave all your research.”
Devon slid open the bottom drawer of his desk and wrapped his tentacle around a backpack. “You’ll learn to pack light after a couple of these kind of things. Besides,” he hefted the bag up, “I last copied these notebooks just a week ago after your treatment. I can recover if I lose them.”
“That doesn’t help me! Let’s at least move my books into Ylva’s domain. They should be safe there.”
“You said they’d be here soon. I don’t want to be caught in the middle. Actually,” he rolled his head to one side with a crack before continuing, “we could just give them the girl, right?”
Eva frowned. “The thought did cross my mind,” she admitted. “The biggest problem is that she belongs to Ylva. She would vehemently disagree with that decision. I’m not too interested in turning her into an enemy, are you?”
A light grunt was all that answered her.
“I didn’t think so. That’s another reason we shouldn’t leave. Fleeing and leaving Nel to deal with whatever is after her won’t… turn out well with Ylva I’d say.” Despite her initial hostility at the woman who had been her monitor for Sister Cross, Eva didn’t actually hate her. At least not anymore.
That said, Nel wasn’t a friend and Eva wasn’t about to die or even get seriously injured for her. She did, however, make a decent excuse not to leave Eva’s books.
“I’ve been thinking,” Devon said after a minute, “with Ylva being gone, this would be an excellent opportunity to disrupt its domain’s connection to reality. Without its domain for support, it shouldn’t be too troublesome to banish it.”
“What?” Eva ceased her leaning on the desk. “Why would we do that? Ylva’s been helping us–protecting our friends and the like. That’s just… betrayal.”
“It has been doing what it wants and nothing more. It isn’t beholden to us or to human morality. We can’t hope to understand the motivations of something like that.” He paused to scratch at his neck before looking back to Eva. “And I don’t like it hovering over us during your treatments. I’m telling you, girl, that thing is bad news.”
“You’re paranoid.” Eva sighed.
Her master had far more experience. A year or so ago, she would have deferred to his advice reflexively. Now, Eva wasn’t so sure. Watching him interact with all the demons around was unsettling. He never referred to demons as anything other than ‘it’ and that never sat right with Eva.
After her final treatment, would she become nothing more than an ‘it’ to be loathed and treated with distrust?
Eva shook her head. She couldn’t perform the treatment herself. There might be needed changes to the circle or timing of the treatment that she simply lacked the knowledge to alter. There wasn’t much to do about his problem aside from convincing him otherwise.
For that, Eva wanted Ylva to stay. Unlike the admittedly psychopathic Arachne, Ylva was calm and collected. She treated Nel with benevolence. Zoe and Juliana as well. If Devon could see that, maybe he’d change his tune.
“But this isn’t the time,” Eva said. “Instead of wasting time talking, we should be moving and preparing.”
Devon sighed and dropped his pack back into his desk. With a twitch of his fingers, the drawer slammed shut.
Eva took a few steps away. She could feel whatever wards he enacted around it.
“So what’s the plan? I can’t enter Ylva’s domain, so barricading ourselves in there isn’t an option.”
“If you open it, it leads to the cell house. What if I open it?”
“Might work.” His thumb slid down his beard as he thought. After a moment, he shook his head. “If we aren’t banishing it, I’d rather not try. Ylva forbade me from entering, violating that could be unpleasant.”
“We could toss you into solitary. If found, you could claim you were our prisoner.”
Her master pursed his lips and gave her a look.
“We’re not fleeing or hiding. Despite having backups, I’ll not destroy my research and it will not fall into anyone else’s hands. We’re fighting.”
Devon wandered over to a filing cabinet. He pulled open the drawer for enticements with his tentacle.
Eva watched with interest, wondering what he might pull out. Her master so rarely summoned demons that it was like a special occasion.
He first snatched up a set of handcuffs. They were old and rusted, maybe something that he found around the prison and decided would be useful. Whatever the case, their presence caused one of Eva’s eyebrows to raise. She had no idea what demon associated itself with handcuffs.
A bag filled with what appeared to be oily black tar had Eva’s other eyebrow up. Devon rubbed his fingers over the bag, squeezing the tar. He apparently found whatever he was looking for; with a nod, Devon dropped the bag into a pocket and went back to looking through the enticement drawer.
Eva frowned as her master looked over the third item. “We are summoning demons, right?”
“What do you think we’re doing, girl?” Devon slipped whatever the black cone was into his pocket and turned to face Eva. “Having a tea party?”
“I have no idea,” Eva said honestly. “I don’t recognize any of those as enticements.”
Devon flicked her forehead with his tentacle. Eva rubbed the spot, glad his appendage wasn’t covered in some kind of slime.
“Just goes to show that you don’t know anything.”
Eva grumbled to herself as they made their way out of his penthouse.
He had his own summoning circle set up on the ground floor of his cell house. The shackles around it were some of the strongest Eva had ever seen. She kept well away from them. Every treatment left her feeling less inclined to test the boundaries.
Devon started with the cone–a candle, Eva discovered as he lit it with green fire. He set it down in the center of the circle. As soon as he stepped outside the shackles, the summoning circle activated. The rotation of the symbols picked up speed as the entirety of the candle went up in flames.
In the blink of an eye, the wax expanded outwards. It grew to roughly Eva’s size. A sphere formed at the peak of the cone. Two columns stretched downwards from the base of the cone and two more cylinders stretched out near the top. As its growth slowed, it started shaping itself. The sphere formed into a face, the cylinders into arms and legs.
A waxy, dress wearing girl with green flames for hair stood in the center of the circle.
Eva always wondered how demons like that worked. Most demons ate or otherwise consumed their enticement. Did she have a body in her domain? Was she just a consciousness or perhaps a pile of disembodied limbs?
Devon whipped out his human hand the moment she finished forming. Her eyes snapped open, glowing a bright red as they did so.
The moment Eva made eye contact, a freight train ran into Eva’s brain. She clutched her forehead and fell to her knees. Her claws were poking through her skin and she didn’t care.
A small part of her mind screamed at her to stop. If she pressed further, her fingers would pierce her skull. Eva couldn’t think. It didn’t matter if the pain–
The pain ceased. Completely and totally.
Slowly, Eva unclenched her eyes.
Devon stood, barely, with his arm pointing towards the demon. His feet were spread apart and he was wobbling. He took a few gasping breaths–that Eva mimicked–before steadying himself.
“What was that?” Eva said as she pulled herself to her feet. She intended to shout, but her voice came out as more of a whisper. Her wards didn’t extend into Devon’s cell house. The wax-woman wouldn’t have succumbed to them after a few seconds. Had she passed out, she would have been entirely at its mercy.
That was a problem she hadn’t thought of. They’d all need to be added to the wards before they could wander freely around the facility. Not an appealing prospect in the slightest–if Devon lost control for whatever reason, they’d have plenty of time to react. If she concentrated hard enough, she might be able to manipulate the wards around the demons. Then, if they did break free, pain like that would disrupt her concentration and the wards would collapse on top of them.
Eva had never done something like that before, but it was something to try before adding their blood to the wards.
“A ruax. It can induce headaches in people who meet its eyes.”
“That was a headache?” That word seemed far too benign for what she had felt. “I thought my head was going to explode.”
“Yeah. Should be fun to set on our enemies.” Devon went up and broke the shackles. The demon moved out of the circle to stand at his side.
Eva gave an experimental glance in her direction. The flames making up her hair were the only indication that she wasn’t a wax statue. Her eyes lost their glow and she stood stock-still. Eva couldn’t see any blood moving within her. Had she been missing her eyes, the demon would be completely invisible.
“You dominated her?”
“Ruax are chronic backstabbers and love poorly worded contracts,” he said with a flat glare. “Their favorite method is to wait until their summoner is in combat and then start up a headache. Just a little one, you’d barely notice. At the most crucial point in combat, it ramps the headache up to the debilitating effects you just felt.”
Eva frowned. It sounded reasonable. She certainly did not wish to feel that headache again. Watching the ruax stand unmoving at Devon’s side still sent chills down her spine.
Devon wasted no time in repairing the shackles and moving on. He unceremoniously tossed the handcuffs onto the summoning circle and started the process again.
“Any surprises I should know this time?”
“An abdoth. Lord of Slaves. Nothing like the ruax, but don’t shake its hand.”
“What happens if you shake its hand?”
At the glance her master gave her, Eva immediately regretted asking.
“Its called the Lord of Slaves. I’m sure you’re not that stupid.”
Like Ylva’s summoning, the Lord of Slaves grasped his enticement before walking out of the summoning circle. No pomp and circumstance. He wore an iron mask that seemed to be attached to the back of his head beneath a wild mane of gray hair. His hands were bound within a set of wooden shackles.
Apart from the shackles and the mask, the abdoth wasn’t wearing much else. Eva could easily see his ribcage. His arms were little more than bones with skin stretched tightly across. Given that the mask had no mouth hole, he probably hadn’t eaten in an eternity.
Then again, Arachne never ate and Eva skipped half of her meals. That had to be his natural form.
He didn’t look particularly strong, but Devon dominated him all the same.
Devon moved just close enough to the summoning circle to open the bag of tar inside the shackles. The tar jumped out of its bag and latched onto Devon’s hand.
Eva started forward. If something happened to him, she’d have to deal with two demons. Two demons that likely wouldn’t be too happy at their recent domination.
Her master didn’t seem particularly concerned. He just pulled back his hand. The tar tried to hold on, but the shackles peeled it off as he withdrew.
The thing thrashed around on the ground, trying to escape. It ceased moving once Devon started up the summoning process.
More tar bubbled up out of the circle, forming up into a deep pool of the muck.
Eva tore her eyes away from the summoning circle. She could hear a faint beating of wings.
No matter where she looked, she couldn’t discern the source.
It was everywhere.
Or all in her mind.
She shook her head just as a smell reached her nose. And that was all it was. A smell.
It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t unpleasant.
Eva glanced back towards the summoning circle.
What are those things?
Eva took five steps back. She forced herself not to flee from the room entirely.
Every time she thought she pinned down exactly what she was seeing inside the summoning circle, the thought escaped and it changed. It twisted in on itself, outside becoming inside before becoming the outside again.
Looking at it hurt. Not the same headache as the ruax.
It hurt because it couldn’t be. Eva could see parts of it that she was certain were covered up by other parts. She wasn’t seeing through it, simply following the contours of the body led to points hidden behind itself.
Eva turned away. Her master let out a soft chuckle.
“W-what is it?”
“You don’t want to know.”
Eva frowned. She considered protesting. With a shake of her head, she decided her master was right. She didn’t want to know.
Devon raised his arm to start dominating the… the thing.
It slammed into the shackles. A flickering wall of transparent green sprouted at the primary shackle line.
The wall of green shattered.
Eva gasped as the thing bounded into a second shackle wall. Both vials of Arachne’s blood shattered as she got the blood ready for her claw attack.
Just as she started to plunge her hands into the wireframe ball of blood, the creature ceased moving. It turned towards Devon and just waited.
Eva held her hands right at the edge of the ball, waiting.
Devon broke the shackles and stepped right next to the thing. With his bare hand, he scooped some of the stuff black tar that dripped from it into the bag and sealed it shut with a twitch of his rings.
Eva wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. The thing broke through shackles. She couldn’t let it out of her sight. “Is it safe?”
“Safe enough. I’ll be sending it back in half an hour. The other two can stay.”
“Half an hour? The nuns might not be here for hours or days. Maybe even weeks.”
Devon looked over with a frown on his face.
“Don’t frown at me,” Eva said with crossed arms. “I clearly stated so as I was explain–”
Eva turned to find Nel standing in the doorway. She almost thrust her claw into the wire ball of blood on pure reflex.
It turns out, she needed to do nothing at all. Nel collapsed on the floor, clutching her forehead. Eva caught a glimpse of a glowing-white eye on her neck pinch itself shut and squirm beneath her robes.
“Oh. Right.” Devon had a deep frown on his face. All the demons, save for the waxy ruax, had moved towards Nel. “I told them that anyone in robes was an enemy. Should be fixed now.”
Eva shook her head as she walked over to the former nun.
“Don’t worry. They’re here to help protect you.” Hopefully.
Nel glanced up, but winced away. The glow in her eyes died out and she tried again. “That’s not any better.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Forget all that,” Devon said as he walked up. He at least had the good sense to leave the demons behind. “They’re here?”
“Thirty members of the inquisition alongside two high-inquisitors. There might be more coming. I left to tell Eva because I didn’t want my spine taken out.”
Devon glanced down. Eva gave him a shrug.
“Where at, girl?”
“South side of the prison, on the other side of the wall next to the big building. They’re trying to break the wards.”
“How long can your wards hold up?”
Eva gave another shrug. “Never had anyone attack them before.”
“Let’s assume about thirty seconds then.”
Giving a short harrumph, Eva crossed her arms. She didn’t disagree, however. That was something she should have talked about with Genoa.
“So,” Eva said, “what’s the plan?”